Most big stories go for a flashy ending and some quick action
descending towards the credits. Luke blows up the Death Star
and gets a medal, R2 spins around, we all laugh. Indiana Jones
doesn't look into the Lost Ark and goes for a drink with Marion,
the ark gets locked away in a warehouse, we all smile knowingly
and go "heh."
In Enchanted Arms, you defeat an artificial tool built
to make men like God, go home, and hold your best friend down
for a big, sloppy, public gay kiss that causes women and children
all around you to flinch and look away in shock. Roll credits.
Enchanted Arms is a hilariously Japanese RPG exclusive
to the X-Box 360, produced primarily so that Microsoft could
say to the far eastern market, "Hey, we totally tried to appeal
to you this time."
Indeed, the 360's colossal failure overseas can be attributed
to Microsoft's longstanding corporate policy of focusing on
the Australian, European and North American markets -- or as
others may put it, "marketing to regions where people spend
money instead of freaking out over whether a second elevator
in their office building is causing too much global warming."
But with this game Microsoft throws that policy out the door
and welcomes our squid- and shark fin-devouring neighbors from
the Pacific to the XBox's super fun time happy panda number
one gamer table. More Japanese RPGs are on their way to the
console, including two developed by a former mastermind behind
SquareEnix's Final Fantasy series, so we can all look
forward to more of the same thing we've been playing since 1997
in the near future. Only with no jagged PS2 polygons for us
to cut ourselves on mid-game.
See, everything about the story line of Enchanted Arms
is about as formulaic as it could possibly be, just like every
other Japanese RPG ever made. You start off playing as Atsuma,
the game's protagonist, who is a university student in Yokohama,
a city with the correct ratio of consonants to vowels for it
to be assumed to be a real Japanese city. Atsuma, like every
other RPG protagonist, is your standard dull-witted youth who
mostly has conversations with people about his enchanted right
arm and its ultimate destiny.
Enchanted right arm.
The game thrusts you into a boss battle without giving you
so much as a clue as to how to actually play, so if this is
your first Japanese RPG, you're going to be really confused
for about 45 seconds while you get used to the overly simplistic
and boring combat controls. It's turn-based, and really reminded
me of that holographic chess game from Star Wars that
Chewie played with R2D2. (For younger readers who lack the attention
span to sit through A New Hope, it reminded me of Pokémon.)
After you get through this sequence, you are then given the
option to go through a basic and useless yet lengthy combat
Everything in the game, from elevators and ladders to doors
and mine carts, is activated by walking up to it and pushing
"A." However, every party member you drag along with you feels
the need to inform of you of this fact as you near a new interactive
object. Then they chastise you for being too dumb to know it
already. It isn't so much that its inconvenient, as much as
it really hurt my feelings with all the name-calling.
Blah Blah Blah Ancient Evil
Finally you enter the game story, where you meet your first
companions, Toya and Makoto. (Hilariously enough, the American
voice actors for Toya and Atsuma pronounce Makoto's name completely
differently. You say "Muh-kah-to," I say "Muh-ko-to.") The story
is about the re-emergence of artificial intelligence military
industrial complex blah blah blah ancient evil whatever genocide,
but as you can tell in my lack of interest, it's really secondary
to some really great character development between Atsuma, his
buddies and three other party members who join up around the
ten- and twenty-hour marks.
The story itself is just an excuse to give these characters
motivation to kill quasi-sentient toys that have been out of
commision for literally a millenium. One character's father
dies, another character's greed leads to betrayal, another ally's
resolve to fight is tested by the boundaries of, sigh, love.
Of course, once these problems are resolved, the characters
take it upon themselves to vent their life stories to you. Some
players may appreciate that. Others will be breaking the skip-dialogue
button on their controllers.
Everyone buzzes about Toya's great destiny and how dreamy he
is. But the real g gem of the trio is Makoto, a flamboyantly
gay transvestite college-student mix of Nathan Lane and David
Bowie. He wears makeup, he is more androgynous than the aliens
Wilford Brimley likes to swim with, he makes special "love lunches"
for a boy he has a crush on, he lisps, he' s a strict adherant
of the Ganguro lifestyle. He's not just gay. He's Japanese gay.
He is so annoying and bitchy that it's both intentionally and
unintentionally hilarious. It gets to a point where you actually
hope that with every lengthy conversation Makoto is going to
say something stereotypical and hilarious. This is what Jar
Jar Binks could and should have been.
Thanks mainly to a plethora of dialogue, the game's developers
clocked the average play time at about 40 hours from start to
finish. I took an extra 20 hours because I fell asleep playing
the game at four in the morning and didn't wake up until the
weekend was almost over.
But there actually is a lot to do in between cutscenes that
legitimately expands the game's playing time, such as a simplistic
casino with slot machines, an arena mode, a roulette wheel,
and for older gamers, bingo.
Towards the end of the game, you're also given an option to
tackle a series of high-level dungeons where the boss fight
is with a giant Zord from Power Rangers who wears a loincloth.
This can literally can add ten hours to the game, but it's completely
optional and easy to skip.
In addition to being impressively lengthy, there's a ho-hum
online mode where you can battle other Pokém —
er, "golem" trainers using characters you've synthesized from
the game. Synthe, synthe, synthesize them all, synthesize them
all, Enchanted Arms! Ahem. It could get old for players
who are less enthusiastic about the game than simply leveling
up elite, undefeatable characters. But if you're looking for
a decent voice chat room with just a hint of chess-like strategy
and violence without all the jiggling of Dead or Alive 4,
or if you're just a flaming Magic: The Gathering
geek, this may be the online game for you, my friend.
But what really nags me about Enchanted Arms is the
environment. In some places the graphics barely qualify as next-generation.
Sure, it looks better than anything the original XBox could
produce, but having played through Jade Empire until
I was mysteriously fluent in Mandarin and found myself subconciously
ordering copies of Mao's Little Red Book off eBay, I'd
say it's just barely so.
The character models are all well detailed and have surprisingly
realistic fabric motion physics. Even Atsuma's cliche spikey
hair moved realistically, assuming it can be achieved in real
life by anyone who is not in an emo band or has a soul. A few
of the cities and boss coliseums shine, and the cutscenes are
nothing short of beautifully rendered.
But the environments in places are nothing short of ugly, with
filtered layers just applied to many textures with a paint-bucket
tool. This becomes especially blatant when you finally gain
the ability to turn random encounters off, about ten hours before
the end of the game. Until then you can't take three steps without
hitting one, but if you don't, you have nothing better to do
while jogging across the map than to notice how fugly and poorly-done
many of the wilderness environments are.
Still, Enchanted Arms is a great first Japanese RPG
for the XBox 360. While it suffers in the plot and graphics
department, it more than makes up for them with diverse play
mechanics, decent character development, and an extremely absorbing
game length. Add satisfactory online play and we have a pretty
decent $60 investment. It might be worth your money for the
awkward gay subtext alone.